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The story of Mo behind Mo's Seafood and Chowder

The seafood restaurant on the coast is known for its clam chowder, but many that visit don't know much about the restaurant's namesake

NEWPORT, Ore. — Sitting along Newport's historic bayfront, the original Mo's Seafood and Chowder has been serving customers since 1946, but to know the history of Mo's you need to go back even further to 1942.

It all started with a restaurant first called "Freddy and Mo's".

"They sell everything from T-bone steaks to spaghetti, hardly any seafood on their menu," said Dylan McEntee, Mo's co-owner and great-grandchild of Mo.

Four years later in 1946, Mo bought Freddy out. The restaurant wouldn't change much, still serving T-Bone steaks and hamburgers instead of today's menu full of seafood.

"Nobody wanted to eat fish. Your customer base were fisherman and longshoreman and loggers. They wanted something like meat and potatoes and that kind of thing," said Gabrielle McEntee, also a co-owner and great-grandchild of Mo's.

Credit: Dylan McEntee
Freddie & Mo's

It wouldn't be until the late 60s that customers really came for the seafood.

Gabrielle said Mo was known to have said that "the hippies discovered Mo's and made Mo's famous."

It became so popular, the restaurant expanded and opened up an overflow restaurant called The Annex. Today, The Annex is its own stand-alone restaurant.

RELATED: How Oregon got its name | What's in a name?

Paul Newman directed "Sometimes a Great Notion", which was shot in Newport and starred he and Henry Fonda. The restaurant becoming a favorite of the Hollywood legends. 

"Paul Newman and Henry Fonda were friends of (Mo's) for years after, exchanging Christmas cards," Dylan said.

Credit: Dylan McEntee
Paul Newman outside Mo's.

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy made a campaign stop at the restaurant, even requesting to take some of their chowder for his next visit.

Credit: Dylan McEntee
Bobby Kennedy at Mo's.

"It was a huge compliment, he couldn't believe how good the clam chowder was. He said can you bring some for us to the airplane," Dylan said.

Today, Mo's sells more than 4,000 bowls of their clam chowder a day through all nine of the restaurants. Three of the restaurants are owned by the family, the other six are controlled by a business partner.

Mo's owners pride themselves as being a family friendly seafood restaurant.

So now that you know what Mo's Seafood and Chowder is, do you know who Mo is?

Many of the restaurant's guests think they know who Mo is.

"A lot of people think she's a guy," Gabrielle said, "That's a really common assumption because her name is Mo."

Credit: Dylan McEntee
Mo Niemi in 1963.

Mo was a single mother of two sons and the driving force behind Mo's Seafood and Chowder. Her grandchildren describe her as someone who loved her family, but also knew what she wanted and didn't hold back.

"Very generous heart, but also she would tell you exactly how she thought. She did not mince words and sometimes those words were four-letter words," Gabrielle said.

Her great-grandchildren Dylan and Gabrielle McEntee are operating more than a restaurant. They're also working to maintain the legacy of their grandma.

"I don't know if there's a day that goes by, I wonder how granny would deal with this," Dylan said.

Mo died in 1992 at the age of 79. 

The name Mo, well it's a shortened version of her real name. "Her real name is Mohava, it's a really beautiful name and she just shortened it to Mo."

And that's what's in a name.

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